A powerful new short film created with young people in residential care is helping provide valuable insights for service providers into the challenges of life in residential care from the perspective of the young people within the system.

These films work on so many levels. They give young people a voice, ensuring that that their own, authentic experiences can be part of the debate about the services which directly affect their lives.

Valerie Dunn

The film, Our House, is the third in a trilogy of films about life in the care system developed by young people working with a team of professionals as a way of giving them a voice within the care system and providing new skills to help them in future life. The young people were national finalists for the Children in Care Award at the Children & Young People Now Awards 2014, for their work on the first two films, My Name is Joe, about being taken into care, and Finding My Way, about leaving care. Earlier this year, Finding My Way won a documentary award at the BFI Future Film Festival for young film-makers.

The films are part of a research project run by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC) East of England, a collaboration between universities and service providers.  Partners in the film projects are the University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridgeshire Film Consortium. The latest film was jointly funded with a donation from the Isaac Newton University Lodge, Cambridge.

The films have all been created at four-day animation summer schools, held each August for the last three years, at which young people in care and care leavers work with a team of professionals to explore difficult and sensitive issues through sound, music and animation.

“These films work on so many levels", explains Valerie Dunn, a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry, who led the project. “They give young people a voice, ensuring that that their own, authentic experiences can be part of the debate about the services which directly affect their lives. In terms of research, film-making like this is a really exciting way of getting under the skin of a complex issue and working with groups who may be difficult to engage in more traditional approaches.”

During the summer school the young people learned new skills in terms of film-making, animation and sound recording, but their learning also extended to team-building skills, self-expression, learning a work routine, timing, working to deadlines and negotiation skills.  

“Although the end products – the films – are important, the production process is equally, if not more, important,” explains Tom Mellor, a youth worker who facilitated the workshops. “Young people in care often find self-expression difficult and our approach provides a creative way of them exploring and sharing their opinions, experiences, thoughts and feelings. They learn a lot – but so do we, the adults, as we all work towards a common goal in a safe environment. Crucially, we all have a lot of fun along the way.”

Under the tutelage of filmmakers Ryd Cook and Andy Dunn, for each film the young people filmed some live action, either at studios at Anglia Ruskin University or, for the latest film, on location in residential homes. Sound artist James Rogers worked with the young people on the sound track and sound effects. On the latest film he worked with one young man, Twitch, to produce We All Have A Life, We All Have A Story, a rap which ends the film. Animator Lizzy Hobbs taught animation techniques and inspired the young people to create and animate images and consider the overall production.

Speaking about the latest film, Michelle Dean, Children's Social Care Participation Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council, says: “We all learned a great deal through this process about how young people view residential care. They clearly want the choice of living either in a residential setting or in a smaller foster care placement: those who were allowed to choose were better able to settle in. Some young people also have a positive experience of their care, forming very strong attachments to residential staff and preferring residential care to foster care. The staff are the key to success and can be important sources of support and information. But most of all, young people want to be listened to.”

One of the young people is now keen to pursue a career in film design and recently completed a BFI Film Academy week, run by the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium, for talented 16-19 year olds wanting to join the film industry. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t done this film project. I’ve learned loads and it’s been so fantastic,” she says. 

At the annual local authority Children in Care awards last week the young people turned the tables and gave the professionals an Outstanding Achievement Award: “For giving us the help and guidance to make our and other young people’s voices heard. For being so supportive, helpful and understanding. We make such a great team – simply outstanding.”

Between them, the films have over 7,000 views on YouTube. The first two are being used to train foster carers, social workers and young people all over the UK by local authorities, fostering agencies and colleges. My Name is Joe has been incorporated into the new edition of The Skills to Foster, the most widely used training scheme in the UK for prospective foster carers, produced by The Fostering Network. Short Behind the Scenes films show the young people at work.

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